“Routine” Hearing of God: How It Works as Part of Life

Dallas Willard Part 15 of 22

Dallas agreed to teach two separate weeks for the Renovaré Institute in Atlanta, a cohort of 40 students, mostly in ministry positions. He rehearses many of the themes from his speaking ministry elsewhere, so there is little new to be heard, but with more time with the group he is able to be more comprehensive than usual.


Dallas:   I’ve put up on the board the version of the Lord’s Prayer that helps us appreciate the Kingdom context. It is a prayer of Kingdom living and the words that we are accustom to, of course are beautiful and I would never think to try to replace them but sometimes if we just word the prayer more in terms of an understanding of the Gospel in terms of the Kingdom of God and of praying from within that context and you start out with—what have I done—can you hear me now?

Sometimes just getting past simple words like “Heaven” is really important because the practice is to think of Heaven as “way off” and “way later” and that deprives us of the presence of Heaven here and now.  You have read The Divine Conspiracy and I am counting on you having memory of that and what was said about Heaven in the Biblical context there. So, when we say, “Our Father who art in Heaven,” we are actually saying this and it’s really important in prayer to get the address right. [2:26]

We talked last time a little bit about the importance of God is creator of Heaven and earth as a foundation for prayer and so, just understanding that when we say, “Our Father, the one in the Heavens,” we are talking to Him who is always near us and “Hallowed be Thy name;” well, “hallowed” doesn’t do a lot for people now days. Maybe they’ve heard it in the Gettysburg Address or something like that but it doesn’t do a lot for people.

So, this is just a rewording, “Dear Father, Always near us, May your name be treasured and loved. May your rule be completed in us. May your will be done here on earth in just the way it’s done in Heaven. Give us today the things we need for today and forgive us our sins and impositions on you as we are forgiving all who in any way offend us. Please don’t put us through trials. Deliver us from everything bad.” That’s really an important clause in the prayer. We want to live there. “Please don’t put us through trials.” He’s not going to tempt you to sin. You don’t need to pray about that. “But deliver us from everything bad because you are the one in charge. You have all the power and the glory too is all yours, forever and that’s just the way we want it.” That’s just the way we want it. Now, that wording is in The Divine Conspiracy and so if you want to, you can refer to that. [4:45]

I recommend that you experiment with this and see if it doesn’t help in the conversation, you see because the conversation is we are talking to God and He is talking to us. The unusualness of it for people generally—Lily Tomlin even has a joke that she used to use about it. She says, “When we talk to God, we call that prayer but when He talks to us, we call that schizophrenia.” [Laughter] So, we need to think about the relationship in terms of what we say to God and what He says to us.

Brother Lawrence has a quotation or a statement; “I have found that we can establish ourselves in a sense of the presence of God by continually talking with Him. It is simply a shameful thing to quit conversing with Him to think of trifles and foolish things. We should feed and nourish our souls with high notions of God which will yield great joy.” And he talks about how when he decided to go into the Monastery as a servant, he thought this is going to be really hard and he says, “God disappointed me. It has been continual joy, so much so that sometimes I have to take measures to suppress my exuberance.” Right?  I don’t know what he did—maybe he bit his lip or something. [Laughter] He was disappointed because he found nothing but joy as he learned to live in this relationship. [7:05]

So, now we are going to spend some more time today on this as we move along and we are going to move into the fruit today and if you would, by the way, bring your Calvin book with you after lunch. I want to spend time on that book as we move into the area of fruit bearing and disciplines.

I have been emphasizing peace and joy somewhat and I would like to ask you to look at Philippians 4, verse 4-9—Philippians 4, verses 4-9 and this will carry over from our last session, Page 9 in your notebook and then we will move on to Session Four. [8:17]

So, now you have Paul here writing out really how he himself lived and in verse 4, he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again, I say rejoice.”  Well, how do you rejoice in the Lord? You rejoice in the Lord by paying attention to Him and turning your mind toward Him and as you do that, then the great Aaronic blessing comes to you. “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face to shine upon you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you.” That is to say, “The Lord looks right at you.” That’s what lifting up the countenance is about—“right at you.” That’s manifest presence—Aaron—what is that—number 6? Aaron was told to put this blessing upon the people of God and that is Numbers 6:24 and following. That’s the manifest presence of God. Now, of course, metaphysically, theologically, God is present everywhere? OK? But, He is not manifested. This is manifest blessing that comes with one turning their mind to the Lord and in that comes the provision of peace and joy. [10:09]

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say rejoice.” Let your moderation—your gentleness, your forbearance”—now, that’s a different way of living. Let it be known to all men—just wear it like you wear your clothes, see? Let it be something that comes out to all men because the Lord is near. That’s the same word—the Lord is near—that is, the same basic term that shows up in the announcement—the Kingdom of the Heavens is at hand. At hand—it is near. It is available. Now, then you see that we live in that nearness. We live in the nearness.

I was talking with someone that thought the end of Psalms 73 where the psalmist has really—he’s coming out of a rough time and talking about it and then things turn and he realizes that the presence of God and you have that wonderful phrase at the end of Psalms 73, “the nearness of God is my good. The nearness of God is my good.” Now, with that nearness, then you can be gentle. You can be moderate because the nearness of God is what you are living from and in that, then you are ready for some discussion about how you carry on that relationship—“Be anxious for nothing. Be anxious for nothing.” Now, that is a way of thinking about peace.  “Be anxious for nothing but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” [12:42]

You say, “Well, doesn’t God already know about them?” No, He doesn’t. I’ll shock you. He doesn’t. Could He know about them? He could know about anything—anything! This is not what He “can” know but what He “chooses” to know. So, let me shake your theology up a little bit and maybe it will help in other connections. “Let your requests be made known unto God.” The plain assumption of that is He doesn’t know your requests until you tell Him. OK?

Did you ever tell someone something they already know? It’s a different kind of relationship, isn’t it? The Lord, in His relationship to us expects us to exercise initiative because it isn’t just a question of Him knowing. It’s a question of a relationship. Now, watch how that develops and “the peace of God which is beyond your comprehension will guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.”

Now, I don’t know about you but my heart and my mind needs a guard. I’m out here in the world living and all sorts of things are coming at me. Often, it is no more than just your thoughts. I regularly pray that the Lord will govern my mind and my thoughts, because my mind is very small and very vulnerable and it is a target for what Paul elsewhere calls, “the fiery darts of Satan.” Ping! He’s shooting at us all the time. He can ruin your day very fast and of course, it doesn’t have to be a true thought; a false one will do very well. So, that peace of God guards. Peace guards. [15:45]

Now, we will want to enlarge on that more when we talk about the various elements of the fruit of the spirit because they are conditions—not feelings; they are conditions of our life in the Kingdom of God. Here it simply says, “If you do this, ‘be anxious for nothing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving,’ you are letting your requests be made known unto God.” You know, people have real problems with that. That’s why its important for us to think that these requests are meaningful and that they are something that we need to present, certainly before God and get over that idea. See, many people don’t pray because they don’t think it makes any difference and of course, if you don’t think it makes any difference, it probably won’t but it will result in you not praying. [16:57]

So, we make our requests. We don’t try to refine them. We just make them. God will take care of it. You say, “Well, perhaps I am wrongly motivated.” Make them anyway. God will take care of it. Don’t try to do His job for Him and as you do that, then this peace comes.

Now, you are not done yet and if you give up a life apart from God, there is still a lot for you to do. Now, watch what He says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true; whatever is honorable; whatever is right; whatever is pure; whatever is lovely; whatever is of good report or well spoken of; if there is any excellence; if anything is worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.” The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do those things, practice those things, “and the God of peace”—here peace shows up again—the God of peace. This now is a description of God. Who is God? Well, He’s a God of peace—“shall be with you”—the when-God love. [18:41]

So this tells you how to have peace and joy abiding in the conversation. Keep the conversation going. You learn to rejoice in the Lord—in the sufficiency of the Lord—and I gave you on the last page of last time’s session a quotation from the end of Habakkuk that I hope you are familiar with because it is one of the most delightful glorious expressions of the sufficiency of God. Let’s see here. Is Habakkuk in the Old Testament? [Laugher] It’s got to be in here somewhere. I saw it. Just before Zephaniah! Right at then end.

There is a book by a man who is looking disaster in the face. God has told him what is coming down the track and it is wipe out. And, of course, this is the book where we get the famous phrase, “The just shall live by faith.” Now, right at the end, here is what he says after saying verse 16, “Because I must wait quietly for the daily distress for the people to arise who will invade us.” Now, he says, “Then the fruit tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flocks should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stall.” What’s he talking about? He’s talking about famine. He’s talking about going to the Piggly Wiggly and finding nothing there. [Laughter] “Yet, I will exalt in the Lord. I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.” Salvation is deliverance—the God of my deliverance.” “The Lord God is my strength and He has made my feet like hinds feet—that means you can walk where it’s really “tricky” and you can walk securely where it’s really difficult. He makes me to walk on high, high places. Well, of course, that’s just another refreshingly different statement of many, many passages in the scripture and they are all predicated upon the nearness of God. [21:56]

So, now, when we want to talk about hearing God, we are basically talking about the fine texture of that relation and we are filling in the blanks so that we don’t just wind up with a metaphysical statement, “God is here.” We are in a relationship that has a specific type of structure and that is conversation. Now, then….

Q: What do you do, back when you were talking about our thoughts and you were commenting—I had someone recently that made the statement to me, “Well, you know I’ve been taught that Satan cannot hear my thoughts and I wasn’t sure how to respond to that because it seems pretty obvious that there is an accusing voice in my mind.

Dallas: Well, I’ll tell you simply. It depends on your thought.  Some of them he knows because he put them there. Now, I think that Satan does not have unqualified access to your soul or your mind or any part of you, even your body but you have to be careful because some of your thoughts he has provided already and he knows about those.

Now, if you turn to, as Paul advises us here to what is good and beautiful and pure and all of that and that’s not his business. He doesn’t work there. So, you have the option, I believe of moving away from his knowledge of you, but he will come to work on your thoughts. That’s how he gets “at you.”  If you just think about how the temptation of Eve and the temptation of Christ, you see, he I working on your thoughts causing questions. Did God really say? And, Eve thought maybe He didn’t? So, now then, there is an end there. So, by the grace of God and by keeping company with God, we can direct our thoughts aright but it is something that we have to do. [24:44]

This 8th verse in Philippians 4, I think is quite a mystery to most people because it doesn’t look religious, you know? It looks like maybe you are just enjoying the good things that God has put in the world. That’s exactly what it’s talking about and it’s telling us how to be responsible for our mind by concentrating on good things, “every good and perfect gift comes down from God.” Right?

Well, what about a rose? See? Now, a rose is a beautiful thing and if you let your mind dwell on it, it will do beautiful things for your mind. All of the good things that God has put in creation and made available to us—it is our opportunity to dwell on Him by dwelling on them and many people think, “Well if I give up all of my sins, which are very interesting, then I won’t have anything to think about.” [Laughter] Well, that’s when you turn to the things that Paul is mentioning here and you accept the fact that God has given many wonderful things and even things like eating, food, drink, and so on. All of these are good things. We concentrate on those. We turn our mind away form the bad things and you see what a deep commitment there is to that if you just think of entertainment and how it concentrates on bad things. Now, that wasn’t always true and for example, if you go back and you read novels that were written in the 1700’s and so on, you will notice a very marked difference. You might like to try a novel called the Vicar of Wakefield. It would never get published today because it’s about the triumph of a man and a family in God. Nobody gets raped or murdered. Yes sir? [27:30]

Q: I am still struggling a little bit with what you said about verse 6 here in Philippians 4, about God doesn’t know our requests because the thing that come to my mind are Jesus’ words right before the Disciples prayer that we don’t have to battle all alone because God knows what we need before we ask Him. So, I guess what you were saying about verse 6—I struggle with because I was thinking, I thought it was like when I need to ask for something, I need something. He already knows what I need but He still wants me to ask Him for it. So…

Dallas: Right. Well, I mean, you can make your stand theologically, “He already knows” and certainly if He wants to know, He knows but I wouldn’t—I would try not to presume too much on the metaphysical attribute to insist that He knows. I mean you have interesting things in the scripture about this, like in the story with Abraham. It says that God did that so he would know or in Deuteronomy 8, He put people through hard times in the desert so that He would know. Right?

You have to ask, “What game God was playing when He said to Adam, ‘Where are you, Adam?’” Right? So, it’s just—the reason I talk about it is because we are really dealing with the nature of the relationship and so, I mean, I certainly don’t want to get dogmatic about it but I would just encourage you to think about the significance of requesting and to think about the fact that even if God does know what you need, He may still want you to ask and you put that—if you dare—in human relationships.

I mean, suppose a husband or a wife or parent who knew everything that the other person needed and they never asked for anything. Right? They just—it’s there because he knows. You know, right? Think about the meaning of that for the relationship. So, just fill in the blanks because the great challenge is to be realistic about what this is like and you have to think about the images of God that control our relationships to Him and how that works, right? Someone over here? [30:41]

Q: Yes, I was wondering if you might comment about the inquisitiveness of God? One of the words for the exercises last night about the timing of God’s voice is inquisitive.

Dallas: God is inquisitive? [Yes] Yes, but He asks lots of questions, doesn’t He? In fact, that’s one of His main approaches and you look at the prophets as you go through the history of Israel and you see God asking questions, all kinds of questions. So, now I don’t see a problem with that because I believe that omniscience is like omnipotence. Omnipotence means God can do anything. It doesn’t mean that He always does everything He could do. Right?  Apply the same thing to omniscient. It means that He can know anything. [31:42]

Comment: I was just relating when you were talking about relationships that God wanting us to ask. I have two adult children. One seldom comes to talk and communicate. I usually have to make a call. The other calls me weekly, and that relationship is growing where the other relationship is kind of static so when you mention that, it made me think of in a human sense, relationships grow through communication and when there is a lack of it….

Dallas: Right; Jerry Falwell, of course passed away some time ago and people have a lot of criticisms about him but there are some things about him that just you know, when I see some things that people do, I just say,  “I’m never going to touch them.” And one thing he did was he called his children every day. And I have to say, “You’re a better man that I am Gunga Din” because I haven’t had the grace to do that and the way I was brought up and whatever—it’s my fault—it’s not the fault of anyone else but I have not had that capacity because things occur to me like, “Well, what would I say?” Something like that…… [Laughter] Ok, did someone else have a comment? [33:20]

Q: Could you just make a quick comment? I am in a church where the sovereignty of God is really emphasized and what I see it doing is keeping people from prayer because they feel like God already has it figured out. He already knows what He’s going to do and we can’t change the mind of God and I think what you are saying might suggest otherwise. [33:39]

Dallas: You’re kidding! [Laughter] This is one of the primary barriers to an active prayer life is the idea that somehow the sovereignty of God is in question and I just want to say that the sovereignty of God is not like that. The sovereignty of God is greater than that. [Amen] [34:11]

See, we tend to think of God’s sovereignty like we would think of a human being in charge of an operation and they don’t want any surprises and they are constantly feeling they might not be in control, but I think God isn’t in that position and so it’s quite within His sovereignty to allow people to decide what to do, including whether or not they are going to talk to Him or whether or not they will ask for things.

See, that’s one of the strange things about teachings on prayer. You find so many that want to tip toe around this issue of asking for things. I remember a lovely couple in South Africa that was taking me back to the Durban Airport and we were talking about things. The got to talking about their son and how he was trying to start a business and he wasn’t doing so well. I said, “Well, are you praying for his business?” They were astonished. “Why, we wouldn’t think of doing such a thing.” And of course that was tinged with the idea that somehow that would be selfish. Now, whether or not the prayer is selfish or the desire for prosperity is selfish is a different issue. It could be. That wouldn’t be good. But, it would be a good thing for the man’s business to profit—to prosper. Think of all the people involved. You don’t pray on that basis. You pray on the basis that God is in favor of good things. [36:00]

People often say to me, “Well, what do I pray for?” Well, anything good! Anything good! God is on the side of that and we should be in the business of doing that. Otherwise, prayer just descends to, as I said yesterday, I think, to a kind of “happy hour.” You will feel better if you pray.

Comment: And it’s okay to negotiate with God like Moses did when he came down the mountain? [36:29]

Dallas: When you read the Psalms, you constantly see people negotiating with God. [Laughter] It doesn’t threaten Him, you know?  So, the reason I am spending less time on this is because this isn’t the heart of the issue that we are talking about. See?  And, I would say, “Talk with God seriously about the things that are on your heart.”

Many people are trained to pray about the missionaries in Africa and they are not interested in that. I mean, really. We say, “Well they should be.” Yeah, but you don’t start there. You start where you are actually interested in, just like you would expect your child to come to you and talk about things they are concerned about or interested in. If we start there, we will be able to get to the missionaries in Africa when that is appropriate. And of course for an individual, it might be appropriate right now because it may be that it’s their brother or sister who is in Africa who is a missionary. That’s right there but just the—see, many people pray about the missionaries because they think they are not being selfish. Yes sir? [38:03]

Q: I guess part of the reason may be for not praying for things like that is because when we pray for this child to survive or for this person with leukemia to be healed and they die—then it’s kind of like, okay, wasn’t that a good thing that I prayed for? And you know, so……

Dallas: Well, it was a good thing but that doesn’t mean that you get what you are asking for. [Right.] So, when you pray, you have to be resigned to the fact that God is in charge. Now, that should encourage you to pray but many people, because they have really not practiced this and perhaps they kind of got some of the concepts wrong, they think that if you don’t get what you ask for, it’s kind of an insult. Like, who do you think you are? Right?  [39:12]

Now, you have to be careful of this. Many people when they pray wind up by saying, “If it be Thy will” and that’s like signing off and saying, “I don’t really mean it.” The thing is that in agony, we stay in prayer. If we don’t really mean it, don’t say anything. And “if it be Thy will” is a way of sort of saying, “Ok, I accept that you are not going to do it.” See, that relieves the tension but we are meant to live in tension with God. So, this is a very serious point that you are raising and I acknowledge that, and I would just say that’s going to throw you back on your understanding of who God is and how He steps in to prayer and what prayer is all about. [40:17]

Prayer is living in tension. Now, I mean, you need to go back if you are worried about that to Jesus’ teaching about prayer. The guy that is standing there waiting for bread and the fellow has already turned him down in Mark 11. He has already said no. “My kids are in bed and don’t make me wake them up. The door is shut.” It wasn’t like we have locks now, shutting the door. It was a big deal. Getting the kids in bed is always a bid deal. [Laughter] “So, I can’t help you.” And the guy just stands there.  That’s prayer! And people have a hard time translating the word; they use the old word, importunity because of his importunity shamelessness is a good translation. He is shameless! You know? If he knew what shame was, he would leave. So, that’s the kind of relationship. Yes?

Q: I just had a question about not ending your prayer with “Thy will be done.” It’s cause Jesus ended His prayer when asking God to take the cup from Him and He ended it that that way so, I guess I’m a little bit more……

Dallas: Well, you want to live in that attitude of, you want God’s will more than anything else but actually, in most cases of prayer you may not know what God’s will is and what we are really tip toeing around here theologically is maybe His will hasn’t been made up. Or perhaps, you would do something different than He had intended. [42:38]

Now, in the case of Jesus, I believe that was a very special circumstance and I don’t know whether I should go into that now because it has a lot of issues involved with it but He was certainly willing to do whatever God wanted and I don’t think—I will say this much—I don’t think He was asking to avoid the cross. I think He was asking to get TO the cross but He was willing to die in the garden if that’s what God wanted. Now, you have to think about how it would be for you to preach the Good News about someone who died of a heart attack in the garden or does it work better the way He arranged it? But, He was perfectly wiling to go whatever way God wanted Him to go and we need to be there. We need to live there but that doesn’t mean that we sign off our requests with sort of abandoning them. We want to be in the position of the man who is shamelessly standing there, waiting and the teaching of Jesus is that’s how prayer works. [44:16]

He gave another teaching about a widow and an unjust judge. You have to understand that a widow is absolutely at the bottom of the heap. A widow was the weakest person and that’s why Jesus chooses this as an illustration. It may have been a real case, by the way. It doesn’t necessarily indicate that it was a pretty story, but how that unjust judge responded to requests. See? The request has a power; it’s a tension. You stand in it. [44:55]

Q: I am thinking of Calvin and what we read and a lot of what he says as far as the sovereignty of God and I am trying to—you know, I’m from this holiness tradition and the sovereignty of God is pretty big but not without human participation, but I find comfort as a believer that I don’t have to know everything. I need to seek God that I can really—the reason I can say, “Thy will be done” is that I want to trust His word is good and sometimes I can’t figure it out.

Dallas: Now, the issue for me is, does that mean that when you ask for something, you are not really expecting anything? That you are not planning on anything? See, that’s the way it comes over to many people is when I say “Thy will be done,” I’ve just signed off. It is really the equivalent of saying, “Forget it, God.” [46:07]

Comment: Well, I guess it’s more than an answer though. I think it’s that relationship that you have in a secure relationship and sometimes you hear and sometimes you don’t. So, for me that’s the sovereignty part; not just saying that it doesn’t matter. I belong to God so whatever happens, happens. [46:33]

Dallas: So, if you ask for something from God and He gives it to you, that will be an exercise of His sovereignty.

Comment: And if He doesn’t, that’s an exercise of His sovereignty.

Dallas: And if He doesn’t, that’s an exercise of His sovereignty. That’s right and you will say, “Well, He perhaps has something better in mind.” [Yes!] OK! [46:56]

Comment: That’s the main thing we learn when we don’t get what we pray for is we recognize again His sovereignty.

Dallas: We want to always recognize that. [Yes!] The delicate issue here is what does that mean for your relationship to Him? And does it mean your desires and what you want does not matter to God? That’s the great issue. As you? You know about pain, right? [Right!] And what you do with your requests? My own thinking is you keep asking. You just hold it there and you watch for His action in that situation. One who has not experienced pain like you have experienced it—I recognize that I almost have no right to speak about it but in general, we make our requests. “Let your requests be made known unto God” and He doesn’t say He will give it to you. He says, “The peace of God that passes understanding will set a guard around your mind and your heart in Christ Jesus.” So, there will always be an answer if you do what He says……yes?

Comment: One of the things recently that I have been struggling with here and learning is I’m praying about something but God seems to say, “Go and do it.” And yet I seek spiritual direction from someone else and they say, “Do it.” But somehow I anticipate that if the doors are opened and God is saying, “Yes” that I am going to get a good result, but I walk through the door and the results are not at all what I expected and I struggle with that. [Isn’t your participation right?] Right and I think that’s what I am learning that I should not anticipate doing great things to happen—success—and that’s an issue for me. [49:26]

Dallas: Well, I will just repeat that prayer is to pray—is to live in tension. So, you do. You live in tension when you pray. And if it’s praying about knowing what I should do; it’s still true. Closed doors don’t always mean you shouldn’t do it. Sometimes somebody else is closing the door and so, we just live in that tension. We accept it.

Q: There is a girl in our church who is dying of stomach cancer and there were some people in our church who wanted to pray with her for healing and she was saying that “I am ready to meet the Lord” and I think people were wrestling with whether that’s what she really wanted or believing that—and I thought how can she—I’m sure at some point in this battle of cancer she has asked the Lord to take it from her—but at this point she was no longer asking that and there were a lot of people who were upset by that and I said, “Well, how could she keep asking that if she really didn’t feel like that’s what—and this is the tension part—at what point do we still want that? Did she give up wanting to be healed? I don’t know. Or maybe her prayer was really, “Lord, help me to be ready to be with you?” I’m not sure where she was but I could identify with someone who –I wasn’t angry with her like some people were that she was not asking to be healed or didn’t want to be healed. [51:31]

Dallas: Well, I think you are saying what has to be said. I mean, it is up to her and if she has decided that—and in the language of Paul—“It is far better for her relationship to the Lord” and so, it’s interesting that people were angry with her. [Laughter]

Well, I would like to go on now. I think this is really important to talk about these things and that’s why we got into it because we want to talk about the other side now. On Page 10 of your notes, we will pick up there. [52:24]

What we have learned from our Bibles and our histories is that there are many ways in which God speaks and it is important for us to do justice to them because sometimes people feel inferior if God doesn’t speak to them in one way or another and they don’t learn what would seem to be God’s “preferred way of communicating.” On Page 91 of Hearing God, I have listed—it looks like about six different ways that you might ick up God speaking—phenomenon plus a voice—and you get Moses with the burning bush, for example. Something like this for Paul on the road to Damascus.

Then you have a supernatural messenger or an angel—that is a way of God speaking. Very often in the scripture, Joshua getting ready to go and he finds this person out there and says, “Who are you?” And this guy says, “I am the captain of the Lord’s hosts.” Joshua says, “Are you for us or against us?” “I am the captain of the Lord’s hosts; take your shoes off. You are on holy ground.” Right? So, that happens and over and over, this sort of thing happens. Now, very often, you may not know that it’s an angel but an angel is just a messenger and very often, of course, when people realize it’s an angel, they don’t know what to do.

Then you have dreams and visions and an audible voice may come as it came in the presence of Jesus several times—a few tines at least. Sometimes, a human voice is used as a way of God speaking to us. That is, a person speaks to us but it isn’t just them speaking. We hear more deeply what is being said.

Those, I think are the ways that God uses to address people—to meet their needs, to find them where they are and enable them to attend to what He has to say. And, you know, if you see a bush burning over there and it’s not being consumed, it kinda gets your attention and the problem is for God to get our attention. The people who usually are addressed are doing something else—and unsuspectingly—something very different happens and that gets their attention and He is able to then speak with them. [56:24]

I have placed at the end of the list—the human spirit. It’s there that we hear what is often called, “The still, small voice.” We want to try to characterize that pretty carefully because that is the normal way that God will speak to us. And you can think about the other ways and what kinds of difficulties that will cause but many people take the attitude well, that’s all over. We don’t do that anymore. I think that’s a mistake. You have a people, especially in positions of responsibly that will try to—as someone says, “You know, I was in my room and suddenly there was another person in the room and this person spoke to me.” Well, for many people, I mean they are out the door running when they hear that. I think we should say, “No, all of these could be ways that God speaks to people today.”

So much of our religious practice is concentrated on control and these kinds of things are pretty scary because they are not under human control. In general, speaking with God is, and God speaking to us is threatening and it is apt to cause people to wonder what is going on. We like to have it settled where we can control it. You have to give up control to walk with God. You have to give up control and surefire methods and so on.  Now, there is method but it isn’t something that you can grind a result out of. We like methods where if you go through the steps properly, at the end you will get the result. That is wonderful where it works, you know and I think it’s meant to work in many, many areas but it is not in the area of personal relationships and especially our relationship to God. [59:35]

Now, the phenomenal sorts of events that might be involved in God speaking to us and us hearing Him have obvious drawbacks. One is they call attention to themselves and not what is being said. There is a real danger of distraction. Another is the problem of interpretation. What did they mean? That’s one of the things where God speaking plainly to us may still have something of a problem with interpretation but generally speaking it doesn’t have the problems of interpretation that come with the more striking ways of speaking.

So, I think that we would want to say that the presence of God speaking with us is mainly in our thoughts or in our spirit and we need to concentrate on that as a way of living with God. The angel showing up or some list or something of that sort or to put it another way is not the way we live with God. We live with God primarily by Him speaking in our mind, our thoughts, our spirit and you know, you could think of communicating with other people by sending an angel to your wife to tell her what you want for dinner. [Laughter] That’s really not very sensible—the burning bush or something. [Laughter]—communicating with others as we speak. Now, if she’s not paying any attention to us and this has been going for some time, perhaps an angel would come, but it’s not the preferred way. [Laughter] [1:01:49]

We went over a bunch of stuff here to try to help us see the dangers of distraction, of upsetting people, of not being clear. You know, the angel shows up again, you are going to be really impressed when the angel shows up; you might miss what they said but you won’t miss the angel showing up. Of course, angels also tend to be as unobtrusive as possible so you can actually entertain angels unaware. You know, you might think, “Wow, why shouldn’t they just kind of ‘wow, show up?’” Well because they are messengers and what they are there for is not to impress us or impress anyone else. So, we don’t need to rule out phenomenal events. It’s quite all right but it is not the preferred way. [1:02:57]

That’s also of course the teaching in Elijah’s story and in 1 Kings 19 where he is running to Horeb and gets to Horeb and there is an earthquake and a fire and a wind and all that stuff. Well, it says, “The Lord was not in that.” Then there came something very hard to get the right language for that event. It could be a “whisper” and the most well known translation is “the still, small voice” and that I think is what we want to understand now about the ordinary speaking of God with the individual. It will come in the form of certain thoughts that have a special character that we learn to recognize and it isn’t that you will automatically know that it’s God speaking to you.

Sometimes you don’t know and the story of little Samuel is very instructive in that regard because he thought it was Eli speaking to him. He didn’t have the experience to learn and to know what was going on and Eli had to help him. Eli knew because Eli had lived in that relationship but little Samuel thought it was Eli and you know the story well enough.

The important thing to say is why didn’t he recognize the voice of God? We are apt to think it would come in the way of someone doing a movie with—like the voice from the Mormon Tabernacle or something of that sort. It doesn’t come that way. Now, why? Well, I think it goes back to this issue—if you want to know God, you have to seek Him. How much do you want to know what God would say to you? Well then, you will seek to hear and He may speak to you in a way that you can’t miss it and that would be it’s actually—once you teach people about this, it’s very interesting, from my point of view because once I’ve had chance to teach people about this, they normally recognize that God has spoken to them many times in the past but they didn’t know it. Now that they know about it, they can go back and recognize that this has happened before. [1:06:27]

It’s important for us to reflect on learning to hear “the still, small voice.” Let me say once again that it will normally come in the simple form of thoughts that occur to you. That will be the normal way of God speaking to us and then of us hearing God.

I spend a lot of time talking about this in the book on Hearing God. We need to be people who want to hear God. We need to be people who are ready to do what He says if He tells us something or who will be encouraged and strengthened if it’s just conversation, which often it will be. God doesn’t just give orders and again, you think about that and that’s characteristic of how persons live with one another. They don’t just give orders. The relationship is much broader because persons are interested in other persons. They find them valuable to be treasured and so they come to fill out a relationship of knowledge and understanding and interest and that’s a part of loving.

Now, once one is aware of that and that the speaking of God as I say here on page 11, the second paragraph, usually takes the form of a peculiar thought, frequently but not always accompanying images of words spoken or written and experienced as something that is addressed to us. That is one of the things that will help you tell the difference between your thoughts and what God is saying to you. You will experience it as something addressed to you; not as something that just comes out of you.

Now, what the quality of that is you learn by experience and in general, that’s how we identify the voices of those we are familiar with is by experience. That experience gives you a quality and an awareness of a voice that you probably can’t describe but you recognize. Jesus plays on that idea when He is talking about this in John 10—“My sheep know my voice.” If you haven’t lived in an atmosphere where you have shepherds and sheep and you watch sheep interact with the shepherd, I am afraid that doesn’t mean very much. But, in that context, the sheep of one shepherd literally knew His voice and the voice of another, they won’t respond to but when he comes and calls, they respond. Animals have this same ability to distinguish voices and respond to them that human beings do. [1:10:19]

Now we can go a little further into understanding what that voice is like—sometimes it’s presented like Wesley in a quote that I give in here somewhere. It talks about, “Well you just know it!” You have knowledge like how do you tell the different between light and darkness? Well, you just know it. After you have experienced that, I think it works like that so what he is saying is not useless but you can distinguish some elements in it and I try to describe those in the book on page 174 and following.

Now, this is not divine inspiration. It’s just my effort to talk about my own experience and how this comes in a way that you can—after you get to know it, you can recognize some different elements in the voice. So, on page 174, I talk about three factors in the voice. There is a kind of tone to it. There is a style, a spirit and the quality that comes has a weight of authority to it—confidence, I guess. It doesn’t whine at you, you know and you get used to that weight of authority that comes with the word from God. [1:12:30]

Stanley Jones, whom I greatly appreciate, says perhaps the rough distinction is this. This is on the bottom of 175 in the book. “The voice of the subconscious argues with you, tries to convince you but the inner voice of God does not argue. It does not try to convince you. It just speaks and it is self-authenticating. It has the feel of the voice of God within it.”  That immediate quality is actually what Wesley is talking about and I give a long quotation at the bottom of 176. [1:13:12]

Then I mention that it has a certain spirit to it—a tone. It’s not hysterical. It’s not loud. It’s not hurried. It’s just calm. My experience of it is never angry. A lovely illustration of it that we now have in these guidance systems in cars because if you don’t do what the lady says, she doesn’t start raging at you, “Who do you think you are?” [Laughter] She very calmly says to re-calculate and then she’s got you nailed down and so now she says what to do. Actually, I think that’s a lovely illustration of the voice of the spirit that is in the voice of God.

Very importantly, the third thing I mention and discuss on page 178 is content. The content will always be consistent with certain principles that God has established usually through your experience with studying the Bible or your experience with others in your community and they will have laid down certain principles that will frame the content of the message that comes. You can expect that content to be consistent with those principles and that’s where you really have to go when you are studying your Bible. You want to make sure that you are looking at the principles and not something that is perhaps kind of trivial if you see it outside of the context in which it is written. [1:15:58]

I mention the issue of long hair and short hair and all of those sorts of things and they come up in the scriptures and people can fixate on those and run contrary to the principles because they have taken something that is local and probably relatively trivial and now, they are trying to make something out of it. You can get a whole denomination out of that. [Laughter]  Like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, “Why are we baptized with the dead?” So, now how are you going to do that? Well, we had a recent fuss about Jews who didn’t want to be baptized. They didn’t want their dead being baptized into a particular church but the whole idea is not in conformity with the principles and so, but, [Dallas slams desk]— to the Bible, women will be saved in childbearing—[Slams Desk]—Ouch! That’s where a person has to be sure that we know the content of the principles and how they work and we listen for the content of whatever may come to us in God speaking to us. [1:17:52]

I mention one thing further on 180, “Beware of spiritual panaceas and I would be wary of voices that too regularly tell me that I can get what I want. So, again, why? Well, there are certain principles about that and we need to know those and then we will have a way of looking at the hearing that comes to us—the voice that comes to us, “the still, small voice” and a framework within which we can make a responsible judgment.

  1. I go through that because I really do think that we miss this point often that we have to learn. We have to learn to recognize “the still, small voice”—even if we are listening; and if we are not—do not need to be impressed with some plain messenger that might come to us. We still need to be responsible. Hearing God does not make us infallible. It doesn’t make us irresponsible in the sense that well, God told us to do this and so we can just do it. Right? And someone says, “Well, how many people are being hurt?” and you say, “Well, God told me to do it so I will do it.” We have to be people who can make judgments about what is happening and the word of God that comes to us whether in the Bible or in our own experience does not relieve us of the responsibility of judging. We are responsible to make judgments and we learn how to do that by experience in any area of life. That is what is fitting for such creatures as we are. [1:20:13]

Now, a major part of my own experience with this is on page 12—I say, “The Bible comes alive as God speaks with it.” I’m sure every one of you have had this experience of a passage that just grabs you, right? And you don’t have to memorize it, you’ve got it and it’s holding you and this is really—God is practiced in the lectio divina exercise because you are purposefully putting yourself in a position for God to speak with the scripture. But you know, I think that there is a deeper dimension of this that the reality of the life that is presented in the Bible doesn’t mean much unless it’s a kind of life you, yourself are experiencing and when we read the great stories of David and Joseph and John the Baptist and Paul and all the rest of them, we need to be able to identify with the experiences they are having or they won’t mean that much to us. It’s as we have come to participate in this same kind of life that when we read the stories of Paul, “Will he stay in Tarsus or Asia Minor?” Or, what will happen. Well, he has a dream. A man across the straits saying, “Come over.” [1:22:27]

Now, you see, he still had to interpret that because it might have just been a dream. But then, does God speak to you in dreams? OK? So, what I am saying is simply that as we begin to have the experience of this interactive life with God, then the Bible just comes—it’s so real. It’s realistic and it doesn’t look like these stories. It looks likes this really happened and then that will help us with dealing with our own experience.

Scott Hilburn is a lovely minister and man, teacher that I’ve known for a long time and I love his statement. I give it at the top of page 12 there, “Ninety percent of God’s speaking to me comes in class time with the Bible, while I am reading the written word. Ninety percent of that is not about what to do, but to enlighten and encourage me.” I think that is really a tremendous statement and it helps us stay close to the principles in our relationship. So, this idea of the Bible and how it fits into the whole picture, I think is very important.

We need to understand that the speaking of God to us does not make us infallible. He’s infallible but we aren’t’ and that’s why we always want to be free to go back and say, “What did you say? Would you say that again?” It’s not an insult to God and here again, our Bible stories help us because Gideon in Judges 6, that’s one of the greatest passages where you have this bumbling, inferior person and God comes to him and addresses him as a mighty man of God. And he wanted to say, “Who? Who are you talking to?” And with his uncertainties, he does exactly the right thing. He says, “If you want me to do this, let’s try that.” OK. Well that worked out pretty nice. Let’s try this. See, that’s us and that’s the way we should be. Again, you see, just the intensely human way that God comes to us and we learn about our relationship to God by watching how He works with us in very human terms. Of course, Gideon did some great things but well, he really didn’t grow that much, I think and I like to point out that after Balaam’s ass talked to the prophet, he was still a jackass. So, being spoken to doesn’t transport you. [Laughter] [1:26:28]

Well, I’m going to have to conclude this session because time is out so let me do that and maybe I’ll just pick up at the bottom of 12 when we start next time but we now probably should have questions about what we just covered because it’s so simple but you have to get used to that and you have to deal with issues where you would like God to speak to you, but He doesn’t, right? And to think about what goes on in that situation and whether or not you have to be spoken to in order to be in the will of God. That becomes a huge problem for many peoples. Do you have to be spoken to and what happens when you are not spoken to so we will come back and pick up with that after the break.  Break! Break!

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